If you’re considering knee replacement for a painful, arthritic knee, you probably know the operation comes in two forms. One is to replace the whole of your knee joint – a Total Knee Replacement (TKR). The other focuses on replacing one of the three compartments in your knee with a single, smaller implant – this is known as Partial (or Unicompartmental) Knee Replacement (PKR).
For patients who are suitable for a partial replacement (and you can read more about who is and who isn’t in this recent blog), PKR can be an attractive option because the surgery is less invasive, which means a shorter stay in hospital. In fact we’re now starting to see a trend towards day case surgery for PKR, meaning it’s sometimes possible to have the procedure in the morning and be home by the afternoon.
If that makes a partial replacement sound easy, that’s not quite correct. PKR is still major surgery, and it will take time and patience to get back to full strength afterwards. But it certainly has the potential to provide a quicker recovery than total replacement.
What does that look like in reality? Here’s a rough outline. Remember that recovery times can vary quite substantially from patient to patient, but the following timeline should give you a sense of what to expect.
When you arrive in theatre, you’ll be given an anaesthetic to send you to sleep. The pain-relieving effects of the medicine will last for the next 24 hours or so. During the procedure itself, we’ll remove the damaged bone from the compartment and replace it with a cap or cover, and an insert to allow the new part to move smoothly within the joint. When you wake up, we’ll update you on how the procedure went and keep checking on your progress.
Most of our partial replacement patients are able to head home within a day or two days of their operation. There are a few important things we need to check before we can sign you off from the hospital. We need to make sure your wound is dry; we’ll try to get you to flex your knee to 90 degrees – although it’s not necessarily essential to do so before you leave the hospital; and we’ll check that you’re comfortable enough with crutches to be able to get up and down stairs. We’ll also get you to spend some time with the physiotherapy team, so they can run you through an exercise plan that will help with your recovery.
As you leave hospital, we’ll give you pain-relief medication for the first weeks at home – usually Cocodamol. The course normally lasts for a fortnight, though some people feel able to stop taking it sooner. You’ll need to arrange for someone to drive you home, and many people like to have someone to help them around the house for the first week or so. This first post-surgery period is really about controlling any pain and discomfort and improving the motion of your knee. Your physio team will be able to help you with this too. They’ll see you again at two weeks to check your progress and to see that you can flex your leg. Some patients even find they’re able to stop using crutches around the house by this point.
At around the month mark, most people find that normal life is beginning to come back on track. As you stop using the crutches, you’ll begin to go for longer walks. In the meantime, you’ll be continuing to do your prescribed exercises and gently building strength in the muscles around your knee. This is the stage where many people are also able to drive again. For more details about driving after surgery, see the DVLA website.
4 months +
Four to six months is the period where most people feel able to get back to normal activities. By now you should be much more stable on your feet and, hopefully, feeling able to tackle longer walks and more varied forms of exercise. You may find it useful to read this case study from Ed, a patient in his 50s who talks about his own recovery journey after partial knee replacement. Everyone’s different, of course, and you should take your own recovery at the pace that feels right for you. But as the weeks go by, you should find that things become progressively easier and more comfortable.
For further reading
An NHS guide to recovering from knee replacement surgery
Some useful tips on how to improve your recovery time after knee replacement
Would you like to find out more about partial knee replacement with Chris Bailey Orthopaedics? To make an appointment with Mr Bailey, call our assistant Cheryl on 01962 8261207, or jump over to the simple booking form on our website. We’ll be really happy to help.
Where are Mr Bailey’s clinics held? Search for your nearest clinic location here.